Friday, February 15, 2013

Sassy, the String, and the Trailer

On Wednesday when it was time to take Sassy over for her x-rays, TC went out to catch her so that she would be ready to go when I got home. When I got there he was angry a little frustrated, and said she wouldn't let him catch her.
She was in her run.

You would think that catching a horse in a 9 x 30 run would be easy, right?  Ya, not-so-much.

Usually TC can catch any of the horses easily because he never makes them work. He is always the good guy, where as I am usually the bad guy.   But it seems as though that day, in her eyes, even he was the bad guy.  It was very cold and windy and everyone was a little wound up.

So I went out with my string (my secret weapon for hard to catch horses) and some grain, and thought I'd have her in a second. It usually works very well with her.  I was already running late so I really didn't have time for a training session right then. If I had time, I would have turned her loose, walked to the round pen with my grain and a halter, she would have followed me in,  and we would have worked back into where she is supposed to be.

So she ate the grain, I started to slip my hand and string around her neck and she bolted back up towards the barn, putting her big fat butt with double barreled hooves right in my face.  I put the string back in my coat pocket, and attempted to rub my way in on her side, she bolted to the other end of her run and put her butt on me again.  You have no idea how badly I wanted to smack that butt, but I have learned in the past that with her it is the wrong thing to do. She will gladly unload both barrels on you if she feels threatened or cornered.  It is too small an area for that risk.

So we went back and forth, from one end of the run to the other, with me wishing I had gloves on because my fingers were numb. I stayed calm despite my urgency and frustration. She would stop I would try to rub my way in from the side, using my body position to try to hold her still.  I'd get so far and then she would squirt past me to the other end.  Finally she let me rub my way in on her side and put my arm over her back and then I just slipped the string over her neck and we were good to go.

Or so I thought.

Usually once you catch her, she is yours. She will do what you ask, without question.  She has always loaded easily, without anything more than a quick sniff to the trailer floor.

This day, she decided that she didn't want to go into the trailer. I pushed her sideways, around the trailer, I moved her feet all over the place, finally with some clucking from TC behind, she loaded.  While we were doing her xrays she was so good.  I thought maybe she was done fighting for the day.

I was wrong again.

It was time to go home, she would not go into the trailer.  She was even more stubborn this time.  It took more moving of the feet and TC smacking her on the butt to get her to load.  I'm pretty bothered by all of this. Not sure why she is doing this all of a sudden, and I know she is getting ready to have to do a 5 hour drive next week.

The catching thing I understand. She has always been that way, notoriously hard to catch. She came to me that way, and I have struggled with it since day 1.  I know how to work it out of her, it just takes some round pen work, which she has not had in a while due to weather and lameness.

The trailer things is my bigger concern.  I have to wonder if it is something I am doing.  Let me explain why.  When we got Gambler, the TWH, he was easy to load, practically did it on his own. Then one day we were loading up to go to a friends to ride and he balked.  When it was time to go home, he balked even harder, When we sold him a month later, it took 4 people to get him into the trailer.

One thing I learned from Jay, is that when I start seeing a specific new negative behavior with more than one of my horses, I need to look at my own actions to see if I am causing it.   Now granted, the two incidents are years apart, and my other 3 load themselves, and they go place much more than she does, but I still have to ask if it is me, or is it her recent experiences when she has gone some place.

Her last three trips have been to vets, so yes that could be it.  Is it because she has to brace her self in the trailer for balance and is not able to unload off of her lame feet?  Should I put a divider back in so she can lean for stability?  Should I not tie her in?  I found that Killian and Trax prefer not to be tied in. They like to have the lead rope over their back and sort out where they want to stand. Usually once faces forward and the other backwards.  It was because of them I took the dividers out in the first place. Perhaps she would like that as well?

I considered the possibility of this being a herd bound issue, but I'm thinking not. She is the least herd bound of any of my horses.  She usually loves to go places, she is curious.  Was she just having a bad day?  Wouldn't be the first time.

I'm thinking that perhaps for the long trip we will install a hay net to give her something to do. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Good idea, or bad?  I think Saturday we will do some trailer work though, without going anywhere. Maybe just load her & give her some treats. Take her out and do it again.   Maybe this would be a good time to try some clicker training. I've never used one on a horse before, but I understand the concept now so I guess it couldn't hurt, could it?

If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions I would love to hear them.


  1. Hmm, that's weird. I think it was probably a combination of her last few rides being to the vet, her having a bitchy mare day, and maybe it could cause her a little pain to not be able to unload her pain. Is there any way you could build up part of it so she could stand slightly uphill, therefor taking the pressure off the front as much? If you have stall mats in it could you pile two in one place so it's a slight incline?

    Personally, I usually always give my horses a hay net when I'm going to shows, usually not so much if we're not going far/won't be gone long. But I have no qualms against letting them eat!

    Maybe when you aren't going anywhere put her in, with the lead over her back, and shut the door behind her, as if you were going to leave. Watch to see if she prefers to not be tied, or how she positions herself, it might give you a clue as to why she's upset!

    1. ya know, you are pretty darn smart! I do have a couple of extra mats that I could put on one side so that she would be standing down hill. That is a great idea, as is the "seeing where she wants to stand when we aren't moving" Pure genius.
      I will try that.

  2. Wow, she really was having a moody mare day, wasn't she? Glad you kept your cool, it never does anybody any good to get mad...but what a challenge! Hmmm, strange about the trailering. So, I gotta ask. How is your driving when you're pulling the trailer? Do you take it easy on the braking, slow and gradual cornering, no jet accelerations?? A lot of good horses have been soured by bad or inconsiderate drivers. If her feet hurt, that could certainly be a part of it, could you give her a dose of Bute before going just to take the edge off? Maybe adding an incline might also help, I don't know. But don't you want her front to be elevated? And, we always put hay in front of our horses for trailering, we hay bags instead of nets and tie them high, then sit the bottom of the bag inside the soft, corner manger. I think food for horses is always appreciated...funny, I'm that way too. I like my food!! :) Hope you get her figured out, if not maybe she's just tired of seeing your vet.

    1. I do try to always remember that I have precious cargo back there, but one of the vet trips I was not with them. It was just her and TC, but he is always very good about being careful too. Still it is something to consider, and I will keep it in mind for sure. I'm making TC do the driving to CO next week. He is a truck driver and much more comfy pulling a trailer than I am.
      Since both of you say use the hay bag, I sure will do that. It just seemed like the smart thing to do.
      Thank you.

  3. I'm just getting caught up on my blog reading for the week. Sounds like that was a frustrating day! One thing I thought as I read was that maybe she's going into heat for the first time this year? The first one seems to be quite a doozy sometimes.

    In regards to the loading thing - is there any reason they wouldn't like your trailer? Does it bang around a lot or make other weird noises, have bad suspension, is it an odd color inside, are the floorboards definitely sound? I've had horses prefer one trailer over another simply because of the height of the windows, strangely enough. Maybe it would be worthwhile for you to ride back there and see if there's something unsettling that happens.

    Yes, absolutely, I would give her a divider to lean on. Unless she hates that. I think it can really help them to keep their balance, especially on a long trip. Also make sure the footing is good. Maybe pile a lot of shavings in there if they won't blow around. That might help dampen loud noises too, and maybe it would make her hooves and legs more comfortable.

    I think it's awesome that you're willing to consider that it might be a mistake you're making. Maybe it is. But don't let that get you down or make you nervous, it'll only make it worse. Maybe get some feedback from another horse person who can watch you. A really detail oriented person can be a real bitch to have around, but really helpful too. I often take backward steps when I shouldn't. I know I shouldn't, and still I do, and I hate it when people point it out, but it is something I need to hear. But then again, maybe your horse is just being naughty! I think sometimes we're too willing to take the blame, and then we get wishy-washy and that's a mistake right there.

    If it were me I'd just load her every chance I get for a while, not on a schedule, with all the time in the world. Lots of praise and reward when she gets it right, and no happy place unless she's at least trying.

  4. I was taught that you should be able to have a glass of water in your cab and not spill any when you are towing a horse. You need to stop and start slowly and smoothly, back off before curves to maybe half the suggested speed limit, and make sure you are not accelerating out of turns till the trailer is straight behind you again. I'm not saying you are a leadfoot, but just suggesting you look at how you drive because in my experience it is one of the commonest reasons why horses go off it. If it was just Sassy I'd say it was her lameness because my girl got to like traveling less when her knee got bad enough to make it hard for her to balance without it hurting her. Another suggestion is to get in the empty trailer and have yourself driven around. There might be a lot of rattling or other noises that bother her. The springs might be no good. If you get in there and experience what she does, you might get some ideas. Dividers are good but if they come down too far towards the ground the horse can't spread their legs to help them balance, and they don't usually feel as secure. Some horses seem able to ignore any discomfort, fast driving etc and still load up every time. Others need much more delicate handling. I guess they are your trailer canaries! Clicker will definitely help you with the catching issues and also the loading, but if the ride is still uncomfortable for her, she will still not want to get on next time after a trip and you will be back to square one. Anyway just some ideas!

  5. You already mentioned most of the techniques I've used. One trainer I know attached some unraveled baling twine to the end of a lunge whip and just gently tapped the butt with it until the horse took a step forward. Bombay used to trailer well and then suddenly began refusing to go in. Once we forced him in, he didn't ride well and had panic attacks. It turned out that the electronic braking system was either not working correctly or I needed to adjust the settings to something different. Horses lose and gain weight over the years, so we sometimes have to change the settings. If the brakes jerk or the trailer pushes hard into the truck when the truck is braking, it can create fear in a horse, or maybe in Sassy's case, pain.